Business Networking for Pagans in its Infancy

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UNITED STATES — As the Pagan and closely-aligned communities continue to evolve, the desire to run profitable businesses within those communities has tried to keep pace. There are no shortage of people who dream of supporting themselves solely by providing divination, healing, wedding ceremonies, magical consultations, books, jewelry, clothing, or any of a number of other products or services to people in their Polytheist, Heathen or Pagan community. But only a few can do so.

Such dreams are sometimes accompanied by plans for temples or community spaces to serve that community, but not always. Certainly it’s safe to say that anyone who lives under the Pagan umbrella, or its shadow at the very least, knows somebody who is trying or planning to support themselves without venturing beyond that umbrella’s coverage area.

The idea is not without challenges, but it’s also not without precedent. There are many insular groups which require little or no support from the outside world. For example, some of the more rural Amish communities have demonstrated that it is possible to support oneself entirely in one’s own community. But even this tightly knit community is finding it increasingly difficult.

Religious groups that have a visible self-identity, or way of advertising that identity, don’t need to be physically cut off from everyone else in order for its members to prefer to do business with one another. The practice is common among any number of ethnic and religious groups. Even membership in an organization can open economic doors: ask an Eagle Scout, Mason, or Beta Theta Pi member if his ring hasn’t provided access over the years.

But Paganism is not like a fraternity, with its secret handshakes and rings, nor is identifying as Pagan the same as identifying as Jewish. A multitude of beliefs and practices, some in direct conflict with each other, are found sporting the “Pagan” label. In addition, there are plenty of people who get lumped in who don’t consider themselves Pagan, don’t want to be called Pagan, and don’t know what to do when their co-religionists wear the word “Pagan” with pride. While similarities and shared experiences do exist, they pale in comparison to the cultural shorthand of European Jews or the look of acknowledgment between two Masons meeting for the first time.

Layered on top of the vast diversity within and near Paganism, there lies a stereotype that Pagans and money do not mix well. The perception is that Pagans don’t manage money well, or don’t believe in paying for spiritual services offered by their fellows, or they believe money is evil and to be avoided, or that the really rich Pagans are tight-fisted and not willing to plunk down cash for a cause the way a Christian might. Whether or not these stereotypes have a kernel of truth, the perception is enough to be discouraging to hopeful business owners. Starting a venture to serve a community that is believed to be poor, money-averse, and/or plain cheap can seem a fruitless goal.

Pagan Business NetworkStepping into the breach is the Pagan Business Network. While it is by no means the only group attempting to help self-identified Pagans find a market for decidedly Pagan products and services, it has a strong loyalty base among its members, and it’s not difficult to see why. In addition to providing a free Pagan-specific advertising space and periodically spotlighting individual enterprises, the PBN also offers advice on many business skills, such as bookkeeping, search engine optimization, and social media marketing.

We asked members about their experiences with PBN. Author and artist Lupa captured why many similar Pagan networking groups may struggle:

I heard about PBN when it was mentioned on TWH not too long ago and joined up out of curiosity. In my experience, pagan business networking groups and forums usually devolve into “Buy my stuff!” groups pretty quickly. Since this is still a small and relatively new group people are pretty enthused about discussing relevant topics, and it’s got good momentum in that regard. If it can keep that spirit even as it grows, I foresee it being a really good resource.

I don’t do a lot with groups specifically for networking, again because it’s often just people trying to sell stuff to each other (or, in person, trade business cards they never do much with). I prefer to engage directly with my customers and clients, and they’re often really helpful in letting me know about other people, places and things that I should know about. So the most effective networking I do is generally more casual and grassroots in nature.

Jamie Magpie Mortinson, proprietor of the Etsy shop The Gilded Spork, explained the value that she finds in the site.

The Pagan Business Network has been a huge motivator for me. I see all the wonderful things everyone is working on and I can’t help but feel inspired towards my own craft. I would defiantly put an emphasis on the business end of the network. Having so many questions answered, especially those I never thought of, has been an indescribable blessing.

Others describe the sense of community found with PBN, including the support members give to each other through encouragement and social-media bumps, as well as the benefits of circulating dollars within the Pagan community. But while the PBN is given props by its members for creating a beneficial environment, and may even represent the vanguard of Pagan business acumen, the site has limits.

What’s almost entirely missing from the PBN are Pagan-owned businesses which do not provide Pagan-themed services. Imagine a world in which the only time that a Christian business owner announced their faith was while running a shop selling Bibles, vestments and stained glass. Just as there is much more to Christian life than attending church services, Pagans also must also spend money on products and services unrelated to their religious practices.

Pagan-Black-BookAmong the twenty or so businesses that have chosen to advertise on PBN, only one is listed under “Non-Pagan Businesses.” Another similar, but older, website called the Pagan Black Book contains considerably more ads, but also only has one listing that’s decidedly secular in its appeal. This demonstrates that the failing is not within the methods of the Pagan Business Network. Rather, there’s a dearth of Pagans who choose to market their mundane businesses to others under the umbrella.

While impractical in many places, it may in fact be possible to hire a Pagan plumber or accountant, if that’s the service one needed, in a major metropolitan area. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be easy. The idea that there simply aren’t any Pagan excavators, medical doctors, roofers, tailors, or hairdressers strains credibility and, also, runs counter to this reporter’s personal experience. Even in the Twin Cities, often called “Paganistan” due to the high concentration of Pagans, there doesn’t seem to be a way to find a business owner or professional who also happens to be Pagan.

Within the sphere of Pagan-centric businesses, there still remain opportunities to develop a more robust market. Lupa expanded upon that theme, saying:

I’d like to see more review sites and media, quite honestly. As an author of pagan nonfic, a fairly niche genre, the list of places I can send review copies of my books is relatively short, especially if I actually want the publication to consider reviewing it. And the list of places that review pagan-made artwork and other products is even smaller. I’d even be happy if someone kept an *up to date* list of sites, bloggers and others that do reviews relevant to the pagan community. That being said, I ran a now-archived review site for almost a decade and I know how much work it can be to run such a site.

In a similar vein, I’d love to see more media interviews and features on pagan artists and other creatives. Usually it’s authors who get featured, occasionally musicians, and maybe an artist who illustrated a well-known tarot deck now and then. Pagan shop owners usually only get profiled during Halloween, or when someone throws a brick through their window. So more opportunities for people to find out about what’s out there would be great!

Perhaps Pagans don’t cleave to one another the way some groups do, or the multitude of traditions shoved under the umbrella are simply too unlike one another to generate the sense of community identity needed to take this next step. Maybe it’s true that there are just too many Pagans who don’t have money, don’t want money, or are scared or distrustful of money to make any sort of Pagan economy gel quite yet. Whatever the reasons, as it stands, the state of the Pagan economy is that of an infant, or perhaps a precocious toddler; somewhat immature, but eager to grow. The contributions of the Pagan Business Network ,and its like, are the contributions to that growth.